“Let’s imagine that you are my grandmother. You see, Granma, we play in a band – not an orchestra – and we have these modern instruments called synthesisers.” – Håkan Wirenstrand
Sweden’s Little Dragon generated rave reviews of its jam-packed Fisher Green Stage performance at this year’s Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. Minutes before they took the stage, the band’s Erik Bodin and Yukimi Nagano took some time to chat with Groovemine about their ongoing tour, how the band functions on and off stage, and what exactly goes into making a Little Dragon song. They shared some strong opinions on, ahem, cramped spaces in the studio, among other things.
Groovemine: How has the tour been so far for you guys?
Erik Bodin: It’s been good, it’s the first week. We’ll be home in December, so it’ll be busy.
GM: You guys seem to be growing in popularity, how is this tour going to be different than tours you’ve done in the past?
EB: I don’t know if it’s going to be different.
Yukimi Nagano: We’ll have to wait and see, I guess. I mean we’re playing bigger venues, so that’s maybe a small difference. But, yeah we’re excited as always.
GM: What’s it like touring in smaller venues?
EB: It’s good, I mean we love playing music, so wherever there’s supposed to be music we will come and do our thing.
YN: Yeah, we like both. We like playing festivals and clubs, small crowds, big crowds. It’s a different experience
GM: I know you guys just came out with a new album, can you tell us a little bit about what the recording process is like for you, how do you develop songs and what happens before you actually get to the studio?
EB: We are always in the studio when we are home, we have our own studio. We’ve had it for ten years now. So whenever we are home we just go there and write music, sometimes nothing comes, sometimes it’s like a big waterfall of inspiration and music so… Nothing really changed, I guess it’s just more of a confidence since we started six or seven years ago. We feel very confident now with who we are and what we are doing.
GM: Is it a big collaborative effort within the band? Do you guys all have your own roles or do you collaborate a lot?
YN: We work together all the time. Maybe me and Erik will start out with an idea, but everyone will sort of add their flavor to the song by the end of it. So, I think, yeah, it’s kind of everyone has their input, everyone adds their little melody or something. Whether it’s just an opinion, it’s really kind of unified that way.
EB: Yeah, I mean we are a band, but we’re all also songwriters on our own. But we make songs for the band. It’s like we’re…
YN: Three little duos…
EB: Yeah, three little duos in one band.
GM: So when you guys are in the studio do you record together, or is everything recorded separately?
EB: It comes and goes, most of the time we start with a drum beat, maybe it’s been put away forever [and] we just continue. As we’re so busy touring it’s always a little bit on and off with all of the songs.
YN: A lot of ideas, we have an easy time making ideas. We make ideas all the time, little skeletons of songs, and finishing them is kind of another story.
GM: So you have songs that you’ll come back to when you finish touring?
YN: Yeah, definitely. Even on this latest album, Precious, probably the first idea [for that song] was probably written like three years ago. We forgot about it, found it, and thought, ‘oh, this is kind of dope, let’s finish it.’
Some songs we just forget, usually there’s a reason for that.
GM: What was the inspiration behind Blinking Pigs?
YN: Well, I guess it’s kind of a love song in a sense. You know, I always have my issues in my life. But, I thought the melodies, the chords — it was kind of very catchy for me, but at the same time very moody and dreamy — I guess, resonated with what I was feeling at the time.
GM: Do most of the love songs come from your heart? Or is it still a collaboration?
YN: Well, the lyrics and melodies always come from me. The guys never know what I’m singing about.
EB: Yeah, it’s true!
YN: But the sound, obviously, that’s what you reflect on first. That’s the instant reaction that you get, well most of us, when we listen to music. I listen to a lot of music where I don’t necessarily know what the people are saying. But you get an instant kind of feeling, and then you figure out what someone meant, or what the lyrics are about afterwards. I mean, that’s what I feel with the music they make. It gives me an instant feeling to reflect on whatever I’m gonna write.
GM: How do you adapt the songs you make in the studio to a live performance? Do they change?
YN: They change, they transform. Some of them don’t, but we sample all the song so we can play everything live. It takes weeks, and then we rehearse them and try to play them. And then we start playing them live and they kind of evolve and change and grow.
EB: We sample for a long period, very boring, then we rehearse.
YN: Very boring!
EB: When we rehearse, that’s when we start to get on each other’s nerves, because our space is so small…
YN: We try to rehearse as little as possible…
EB: …and it’s simply just too crowded to…
YN: …take each other’s criticisms!
EB: Yeah. So then finally when we get to play them live it takes a certain amount of shows and then we don’t have to talk about it anymore. And that’s like the nirvana state of mind.
YN: It usually takes a few shows with any song to feel comfortable in them, and then once they’re comfortable they start to transform.
GM: Well, going off of what you were saying about getting on each other’s nerves, because you guys spend so much time with each other making music, touring, performing, how do you separate what might happen between band mates in personal life from what happens in the studio or on stage?
EB: You can’t really.
YN: I think we’re kind of learning a little bit to stay away from each other. I think in a good sense. But when it’s so intense, you really need your own space. We’ll tell our manager we really can’t be sharing rooms anymore. We need our own rooooms!!! So, little things like that actually really matter. And when you’re on the bus, you need that hour for yourself.
So, I think we kind of learn to work together all the time, and when we are unified we really are, and then when we do get a chance to stay away we do that as well.
GM: So you guys are going to be touring throughout the fall, do you have anything else planned for when you finish touring?
EB: Back to normal, back to studio, back to…
YN: Writing songs, you know we want to keep releasing music. Who knows, maybe an EP next year.
EB: We’re already hungry for going back to the studio.
YN: Yeah, we wanna write.
EB: By the end of tour we will be desperate to get back!
GM: Alright, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us at Bumbershoot today!
EB: Thank you!
YN: Bye! – Source.
Stephanie, a visitor to this here website, ensured I wasn’t to miss out on this following quote – and it’s a good one:
“In the future, Bodin and the rest of Little Dragon are excited that a former keyboardist will rejoin the group “to expand sound when we play live. It’s part of the ritual union,” says Bodin cleverly off-the-cuff. We hope Little Dragon continues to mate for as long as its virility makes it breathe musical fire.” Source.
You’ve probably witnessed a tall, handsome gentleman (Arild Werling) replace someone just as tall and someone just as handsome (Hakan Wirenstrand) during Little Dragon interviews, shows, and related events lately. Arild is a friend, a producer, a musician, and a damn fine keyboardist, and it would seem that his fleeting moments on stage may be expanded to a permanent deal, if Bodin is to be believed above. Follow Arild Werling on Twitter here. The prospect of Little Dragon’s live vibe becoming even more potent will tingle the spines of many.
Let’s look at Werling at work …
“The most serious and non-serious person I know.”
“We spent some exciting days in Berlin attending the HUGO Fashion Show, playing at the after show party, visiting fascinating spots like the Teufelsberg and many more. It was a great opportunity and we really enjoyed you people.”
One of the star attractions of Gorillaz’ US tour last autumn was Little Dragon, a barely known four-piece from Gothenburg. Having been invited by Damon Albarn to contribute to the album Plastic Beach, and having co-written “Empire Ants” and “To Binge”, they found themselves playing arenas.
Listening to Little Dragon’s new album, Ritual Union, you can see why Albarn, pop’s greatest experimenter, is a fan. It is hard not to be drawn in by the minimal beats and synth grooves of their electro-soul, which are overlaid with the airy vocals of Japanese-Swedish singer Yukimi Nagano.
The drummer Erik Bodin and bassist Fredrik Wallin were drawn to her at high school, in 1996. Nagano was 14 when the pair, two years older, invited her to join their band. “From the very start, we were struck by Yukimi’s voice”, says Bodin. “She was extremely shy, but she had this super-dark voice, she could sing very low.” The keyboardist Hakan Wirenstrand came later, as did the band’s name, which was inspired by an outburst from the feisty singer during a rehearsal. “Back then she had a fiery temper,” says Bodin. “I think when you’re young you don’t know how to express what you feel and you get angry. At some point someone called her a little dragon.”
Poised to enter the Top 20 with Ritual Union – their two previous albums went nowhere near the chart – Little Dragon might now have to relinquish their cult status.
“It’s very exciting,” says Nagano. “It feels like we’ve put so much work and heart into it. But I feel like nothing has happened suddenly. There hasn’t been that one moment where suddenly our song was played on the radio and everything changed.”
Instead, everything has changed over the two years since the release of the band’s second album, Machine Dreams. It is not only Albarn who has been won over by their charms. TV on the Radio’s David Sitek invited Nagano to collaborate on a solo project, Maximum Balloon, and the band also contributed to Raphael Saadiq’s new album, Stone Rollin’. Andre 3000 is such a big fan that he tipped off Big Boi, who will now produce one of the band’s songs for his new album.
“It’s super flattering”, says Nagano. “It’s crazy how someone that you have listened to and has somehow shaped who you are has suddenly come back and said that they’ve been inspired by your music.” As a teenager, Nagano loved Saadiq’s R&B supergroup, Lucy Pearl. “That was kind of crazy to hear,” she says, “that he thought our album was the best album of the year.”
Such collaborations are sure to attract further attention but, says Nagano, “it’s not intended at all. Almost the opposite. We’ve been determined to not have any guests on our own album. But being on the road and meeting other artists and inspiring people opens that door. I think if the vibe is there, and there’s a kind of connection, then why not?”
They found such a connection with Albarn, who has a similar approach to songwriting. “It’s very experimental and kind of restless and that’s what we do as well,” says Nagano. “It’s all very much about being spontaneous. We want it to feel fresh.”
Nagano describes Albarn’s working methods with childlike enthusiasm. “His studio was real cool. When we were writing with him, there was a bunch of instruments, everything from church bells to percussion stuff to all kinds of different synthesisers, so the guys would jam something and you’d just record that. There’s a spontaneous moment that you try to capture.”
Little Dragon’s studio is chaotic – the band built it themselves and it is where they are most comfortable. “It’s kind of junky, kind of messy,” says Nagano. “It’s just a place where we feel completely at home and comfortable, it’s the place where you don’t feel afraid of trying stuff. It’s our zone.”
You might have imagined that Little Dragon would have upgraded to a shiny new studio, to parallel their climb to fame, but they like to keep things just as they were when they began.
“We’ll stay there until we get kicked out,” says Nagano. “If we were in some fancy studio and the clock was ticking away and it was costing so much to be there and you have an engineer – just having a stranger in the room can change the whole energy of your creativity. We don’t mind the mess and the chaos, everything there is us and our past and who we are.”
If the band feel particularly at home at the studio, that is because they lived in it, as part of a musicians’ commune, before they made their debut album in 2007. Known locally as the Seal Colony, it was a place where musicians would rest their heads and hang out between gigs. It formed the foundations for many of the songs on the band’s eponymous debut.
“It was intense in a way because we would almost never go out,” says Nagano. “We were just stuck in our little place, writing music. We forgot to go to the post office and forgot to pay our bills and only went out to get food. It was a funny time in our lives because we really dived into writing music, playing music. That was all we did, we were just writing songs and jamming out. We became lost in there.”
The stripped-back songs on Ritual Union strike a balance between dance party tracks and dreamy electro-pop. “We want people to dance, or listen to it really loud in their headphones,” says Nagano. “Music is an escape for us and hopefully people will want to crank it up really loud and sing along.” The album’s sound was informed by everything from Brian Eno to Busta Rhymes to commercial pop and African house music, which Bodin picked up while visiting his wife’s family. The trance-like, minimal feel of that music rubbed off. According to Bodin, though, it was Nagano who most shaped this album.
“She has developed a lot over time, but it feels like on this record she’s very direct,” he says. “It feels louder. We just try to decorate the music along with her voice. Since she’s very direct, it made the music more minimal. Because we were doing everything ourselves on this album, we were confident to strip it back and have it minimal rather than adding and adding.”
The band’s home city, which Nagano says is “kind of boring” has spawned such artists as The Knife and José González but it did not inspire Ritual Union. “If you want to have excitement and you want to be inspired I don’t think Gothenburg’s going to give you that”, Nagano says. “But if you want to inspire yourself and dive into your own zone like we do, then it’s a good place because you don’t really get distracted.”
“It’s grey and industrial,” says Bodin. “But the winter, cold and darkness can inspire you to be creative and do something.”
Having met Bobby Womack, De La Soul and members of The Clash while on tour with Gorillaz, Little Dragon are not ruling out further collaborations. “We all shared the same childish passion for music,” says Bodin. “Bobby Womack said the simplest but wisest things, like ‘It’s unpredictable what’s going to happen, just stay true to yourself’, and it made a big impact on us. Paul Simonon said that he really liked the way we play because when we play live it’s so dramatic. It felt really nice because that’s what we are striving for – to have some fire, [and] dramatic, intense feeling.”
So the band’s name is still appropriate. “Exactly. Since Nagano’s not so frustrated and angry anymore, now the name has more to do with us as a group, as a fiery little creature.” – Source
Experimental Swedish pop act Little Dragon has long been championed by its peers. The group-vocalist Yukimi Nagano, drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin and keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand-appeared on Gorillaz’ 2010 effort, “Plastic Beach,” and Nagano has lent her vocals to R&B singer Raphael Saadiq’s “Just Don’t” and dance music producer SBTRKT’s “Wildfire,” a song that lit up the Internet and spread awareness of the band (and of SBTRKT) when rapper Drake jumped on the track to craft his own remix in June. But lately, Little Dragon has been drawing major media attention in the United States all on its own.
In May, Little Dragon’s new song, “Ritual Union” was included in Esquire’s “30 Summer Songs Every Man Should Listen To,” and later that month, the group appeared on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.” (?uestlove, leader of the “Fallon” house band the Roots, is a noted Little Dragon fan.) On July 26, Little Dragon released “Ritual Union,” its third full-length and second stateside release on Peacefrog Records. The album was recorded during the span of two years at the band’s own studio in Gothenburg, Sweden, with a cast of rotating equipment.
“Our studio is kind of scrappy,” says Bodin, who also served as the album’s producer. “Most of the songs started with drums that had been recorded, and then me and Yukimi would build a song around the drums with a bassline and she would do a melody. On some songs, like ‘When I Go Out,’ that’s more Håk and his little trip into voice processors.”
The album is woozy, yet emphatic, as heard on the single “Nightlight” as well as on “Shuffle a Dream,” which sounds like it could soundtrack an episode of “Miami Vice.” Though often considered an indie rock band, Little Dragon’s music is more often a coagulation of electronic dreamscapes with lush R&B-tinged vocals that bring to mind Erykah Badu or Portishead.
“They’re a music lover’s favorite band,” says Heathcliff Berru, Little Dragon’s U.S. co-manager. “Not many people, up until recently, have been reading about them, but I went on tour with them back in April of 2010 and they sold out most of that tour.”
Little Dragon will hit the road in United States in August and travel through Australia and Europe in the fall.
“For this album, there are some people behind us helping to push out to the media. [Until now] it’s been playing live and selling our CDs ourselves after the shows,” Bodin says. “But this time I think they realized we came quite a bit by ourselves and they wanna join in.”
Happy Birthday to the man, the myth, our drumming legend that is Erik Bodin. Best wishes to him and his family on what should be a wonderful day for them all. And to truly get us in the partying mood; show us how it’s done, Erik …